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Heel Tough Blog: ACC Tournament Final - NC State Preview


For the first time in six years, the Tar Heels will play for a conference tournament championship, when they meet rival NC State later on tonight in the nation’s capital. Carolina advanced to their record, 36th ACC Tournament final, after beating Pittsburgh 72-65 in a physical battle last night in the semifinals, in a game that may have earned Carolina the final #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and potentially dashed Pitt’s chances at making the big dance. A win tonight would give Carolina a sweep of the ACC regular season title, and tournament title, for the first time since 2016, when Carolina would eventually make the Final Four, and play for the national title. 

NC State is looking to become the first team in the history of the ACC Tournament, to win five games in five days, and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack entered the tournament, unsure about the future of Kevin Keatts as the program’s head coach, and after trailing to Louisville at the half on Tuesday, this run seemed improbable. After beating the lowly Cardinals, State promptly upset Syracuse, Duke, and Virginia, to make their first ACC Tournament final since 2007, when they lost to UNC in Tampa. After a three-pointer at the buzzer sent the game to overtime last night, the Pack feel like fate and destiny are on their side, and their confidence is at an all-time high. D.J. Horne paces them in scoring at over 16 points per game, but the emergence of Mohamed Diarra and Ben Middlebrooks, along with the powerful D.J. Burns, has made them formidable on the inside. After a season of up-and-down play, State has found its identity and is playing to its strengths, while minimizing its shortcomings. 

These two teams played exactly two weeks ago, a 79-70 UNC win in Chapel Hill, after Carolina overcame an 8-point deficit, and turned in arguably their best defensive half, in the final 20 minutes, forcing 16 straight shots at one point. Harrison Ingram had his best game as a Tar Heel, scoring a season-high 22 points in the win. The ingredients that propelled Carolina to the win, will look to be cooked up once again tonight, this time with a conference tournament title on the line. 

After winning the outright ACC regular season title, Carolina arrived in Washington, D.C. looking to validate a special regular season. They may have already done so by making the tournament final, but a win tonight, would give UNC a sweep of both for the first time since 2016 and also lock up the final #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Here’s how they get the job done, against their rival: 

  1. Limit D.J. Horne: Horne dominated Carolina in the first half a few weeks ago, scoring 16 points in the opening stanza, before Carolina smothered him in the second half, behind the efforts of Cormac Ryan and Seth Trimble. With him averaging over 16 points per game, it’s hard to ask to take him completely out of the game, but you have to limit the damage he does because he’s capable of exploding for 30 points if necessary. Expect Ryan to draw the assignment to start the game, and Seth Trimble to guard him when he’s in off the bench. If Horne gets going, it completely opens up the floor for State’s other playmakers, and as we’ve seen during the course of the tournament, they are capable of beating anyone in the ACC.

  2. Win the Battle on the Interior: When these two teams first met in January, it was about Bacot versus Burns. Now Burns has help in the form of Clemson transfer Ben Middlebrooks, and Mohammed Diarra, two guys that scrap defensively, and provide a presence offensively. We know how personal Armando takes playing NC State, but he’s going to need help when dealing with State’s trio. Ingram had a monster game on the glass in Raleigh while being more of a scorer in Chapel Hill. He’ll need to be a mixture of both tonight, and Jalen Washington needs to provide a lift off the bench, when Bacot is out with either foul trouble or getting a rest. 

  3. Control the Tempo: With State having played their fifth game in five days it's imperative that Carolina plays fast, in an effort to wear them down sooner than later. In the wins against Duke, and in other marquee games, Carolina has played with relentless energy and effort, outworked the opponent, and wore them down over the course of 40 minutes. Carolina hasn’t pressed much in this tournament, but tonight seems like a good time to deploy the press, to speed the game up, and hopefully wear down a team that will be playing on adrenaline more than anything. 

UNC in the ACC Tournament:

  • This is the 36th time that Carolina will play for the ACC Tournament title, In their previous 35 appearances, Carolina is 18-17, with their last title coming in 2016. This is the seventh time that Carolina will face State in the ACC Tournament final, the second most behind UNC and Duke. The last time they met in the tournament final was 2007, a UNC win in Tampa. 


  • North Carolina - 7th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 118.2 (23rd) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 92.7 (6th) 

  • NC State - 66th overall. Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 114.0 (51st) Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 101.7 (93rd) 


  • North Carolina - 7th. 

  • NC State - 68th

TV Info:

  • Tonight’s game will start at 8:30 on ESPN. 

The Four Corners Podcast:


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